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The cleaners took my dress: Now what?

Posted by Mitch Lipka  December 19, 2012 02:51 PM

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Q. After my wedding eight years ago, my friend dropped off my dress for me at what was then Esplanade Cleaners. After the store was sold, I checked and a record of my dress was still in the computer system. When my niece recently got engaged, she wanted to use the dress for her wedding. I couldn’t find the receipt and called the store only to find that they didn’t have any dresses in storage. I was told that they didn’t retain any inventory and that I needed to track down the former owner, who moved out of state.

I should have been given the chance to pay the storage fee in full and retain the gown. Now, it’s gone. Do I have any redress at all?

Jacqueline Church, Boston

A. Your situation is unfortunate – and complicated. Nothing really went right, and a whole lot went wrong.

Clothing cleaning and storage arrangements tend to be a bit more formal and shorter-term than what happened here.

Barbara Anthony, who heads the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, says the arrangement with the former business didn’t make much sense. Typically, you’d pay to clean a garment and either pick it up or arrange to have it stored for a period of time for a nominal fee. “I wouldn’t expect that they’d be holding onto it for years.”

At dry cleaners and shoe repair shops, it is common practice to either post or put on a receipt the period of time your items will be held before you risk them being removed from their inventory. That is usually a matter of months, not years.

Then, when the business changed hands, it further clouded a murky situation. Without a receipt, it’s not even clear what leverage you would have over the previous business owner, Anthony said.

In a typical situation, with clothes there for a short time, “more than likely, if it’s an ongoing business, you’d get all of your things back and the transfer of ownership would not affect it,” Anthony said.

If a business like that shuts down, often the owner will make an arrangement with a former competitor who would take the inventory in hopes they would pick up the customers.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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